Halloween Kills Review

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) spends the 12th Halloween experience laid up in a hospital bed after her near mortal injuries incurred from the 11th one. In that sense, Halloween Kills is quite similar to the first official sequel from 1981. The samesies comparisons don’t stop there as this is an inferior follow-up to what came before it. The difference is that the 1978 original was a slasher classic to which all followers have been judged. 2018’s Halloween was not and therefore the letdown isn’t as steep.

Kills takes place (like Halloween II) during the immediate events after its predecessor. Laurie, daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) had left Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) to burn at her tricked out house. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be mission unaccomplished as the masked one escapes that space and leaves plenty of dead firefighters in his wake.

While Laurie is recovering from her own stabbing, Michael has his knives out for plenty of other townsfolk in Haddonfield. As you may recall, we are on our third iteration of the killer’s most famous prey reuniting with her predator. The 1981 sequel continued John Carpenter’s storyline and revealed that Laurie is Michael’s little sister. 1998’s Halloween: H20 set their sibling rivalry 20 years later.

By the time David Gordon Green and company came around and another two decades passed, 2018’s Halloween ignored all of that. The familial connection was slashed in favor of Laurie becoming a survivalist and waiting for escaped booby hatch patient Myers to find her. Kills allow for other figures in the ’78 pic to return – Tommy Doyle (who Laurie babysat) is now Anthony Michael Hall. Kyle Richards reprises her role as Lindsey, one of the other kids tormented that night. And we catch up with Sheriff Bracket (Charles Cyphers) and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens). We also spend some unnecessary time with flashbacks to 40 years before that don’t add much (though if you want CG Donald Pleasance, you’re in luck).

The phrase “Evil Dies Tonight” is repeated ad nauseam as the denizens of our Illinois murder spot (led by Tommy) seek to end Michael’s return engagement. Of course, we know that ain’t happening. Halloween Kills is the second of a trilogy that will end (?) with next year’s ambitiously titled Halloween Ends. This has the feel of stopgap viewing with no real payoffs and our star player relegated to the sideline. There are a few garish highlights. I was entertained by the couple Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald… not that one) who live in Michael’s childhood house of horrors and probably should’ve upped their homeowners insurance. A hospital set scene where the residents chase down another of the escaped mental patients is shot effectively.

Ultimately Halloween Kills, for most of its running time, feels painfully average. It’s more violent than part one… which was actually part II if you ignore that other part II. So I suppose this is part III when ignoring nine other movies. The gimmick of Laurie coming back (again) had its pleasures in 2018. Tommy and Lindsey coming back in the mix doesn’t really cut the mustard. Michael cuts the tracheas and tendons with dutiful impassioned restraint. It seldom rises above the mediocrity where most of this series has dwelled since part one (the real one).

** (out of four)

Freaky Movie Review

The joy of witnessing Vince Vaughn in the body of an awkward teenage girl provides intermittent comedic thrills in Christopher Landon’s Freaky. It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them in the latest spotty but certainly watchable low-budget horror flick from the Blumhouse shop. If you have seen the director’s two Happy Death Day pictures, you won’t be surprised he’s behind the camera with this. The first Death reconfigured the Groundhog Day concept to the slasher genre while its sequel veered more toward a sci-fi Back to the Future vibe. Freaky‘s influence is simple and in the title without mentioning the word Friday.

Our body swap involves an urban legend but very real serial killer who goes by the Blissfield Butcher and is played by Vaughn. Millie (Kathryn Newton) is the high schooler mourning the loss of her father while her alcoholic mom coddles her. When the Butcher swipes a mysterious ancient dagger from his previous killing in an attempt to off Millie, it switches their forms. This is just in time for Friday the 13th and they have 24 hours to reverse the effect.

I’ll use this opportunity to praise title cards. I enjoyed how in the lead up to the big day, we see “WEDNESDAY THE 11TH” and “THURSDAY THE 12TH” in bloody scrawl font as if they’re meant to provide a jolt. When Millie does inhabit the Butcher’s 6’5″ frame and has a long pined for romantic moment with her crush, it provides the funniest scene of all (Vaughn’s humorous talents are on full display there).

Yet Freaky is also tonally challenged. Millie’s tragic family dynamics feel slightly forced. The backstory involving that mystical knife called La Dola might be something its makers hope to explain further in a sequel. I’ll credit the screenwriters for finding a couple of Friday the 13th style inventive ways to off lustful adolescents, but the film isn’t exactly scary.

This is more occasionally funny than truly freaky and it ends up being about as entertaining as both Happy Death Day experiences. It succeeds from time to time with its mashup of well known properties, but leaves a bit to be desired.

**1/2 (out of four)

Freaky Box Office Prediction

A slasher version of Freaky Friday comes from the Blumhouse shop with the release of Freaky next weekend. The low budget horror flick features a high school senior (Kathryn Newton) who switches bodies with a serial killer (Vince Vaughn). Christopher Landon (who made Happy Death Day and its sequel) directs and costars include Katie Finneran and Alan Ruck.

Shot for a reported $5 million, its studio has often excelled at turning a tidy profit for its ventures. Early reviews are encouraging with an 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating with particular praise for its two leads. The theatrical window here is unique as it opens on Friday on the 13th and will be available for streaming just three weeks later in early December.

The solid critical reaction and Blumhouse’s marketing talents could push Freaky to make its budget back in the initial weekend. I’ll project that it will.

Freaky opening weekend prediction: $5.7 million

The Hunt Box Office Prediction

After being pushed back several months due to its violent subject matter, Blumhouse’s thriller The Hunt debuts next weekend. Based loosely on the nearly century old story “The Most Dangerous Game”, the pic comes from director Craig Zobel. The cast includes Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Hilary Swank, and Justin Hartley.

As is the case with most Blumhouse Productions, this is a low budget venture with a reported price tag of $15 million. Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost, HBO’s Watchmen, and numerous film scripts, has cowriting credit.

The satiric tale was originally scheduled for September of last year before being delayed following the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. The Friday the 13th reschedule could manage to capitalize on its past publicity, but I question whether it will. I believe The Hunt may not achieve double digits for its start.

The Hunt opening weekend prediction: $7.7 million

For my I Still Believe prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/03/i-still-believe-box-office-prediction/

For my Bloodshot prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/04/bloodshot-box-office-prediction/

For my My Spy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/05/my-spy-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, updating the H.G. Wells novel and classic 1933 film, debuts Friday. With 90% currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the word-of-mouth should propel the pic to quite visible box office numbers. In doing so, Invisible should break a streak of underperforming horror titles in recent months.

Much of the praise from reviewers is centered on its lead Elisabeth Moss. The Emmy winner for The Handmaid’s Tale garnered a small amount of Oscar buzz in 2019 for Her Smell that never came to fruition. I look for this to be the third year in a row where an actress garners buzz for a scary movie. In 2018, it was Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. In 2019 – Lupita Nyong’o for Jordan Peele’s Us. Both performers received a few wins from the critics groups. They both failed to get nods come Academy time.

This will likely be the case for Moss as well, but expect lots of speculation that she could make the cut before she doesn’t. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Invisible Man Box Office Prediction

Horror pics have faced a tough road so far in 2020 as The Grudge, The Turning, Gretel & Hansel, and Fantasy Island have all posted lackluster debuts. This weekend, I don’t see the trend stopping with Brahms: The Boy II. do see it changing next Friday with The Invisible Man. From director Leigh Whannell (who recently made Insidious: Chapter 3 and Upgrade), this is an update of the H.G. Wells novel that was turned into a classic 1933 James Whale tale. Elisabeth Moss (who co-starred in last year’s Us) headlines a cast that includes Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer.

This project was originally intended as a vehicle for Johnny Depp as part of Universal’s plans for a franchise that began with 2017’s The Mummy. When that pic brought in less than expected returns, the monster series was scrapped. The Invisible Man has undergone a significant transformation with Blumhouse co-producing. Per usual with that production company, the budget is tiny (a reported $7 million).

Early word-of-mouth is strong with screening members reporting a tense and effective crowd pleaser. Whannell appears to be a filmmaker on the upswing and Moss certainly has her fans from The Handmaid’s Tale and more.

I believe Invisible will be quite visible on the radar screens of genre moviegoers and break the streak of scary disappointments over the past few weeks. A gross of over $30 million might be the result.

The Invisible Man opening weekend prediction: $33.8 million

Fantasy Island Box Office Prediction

The latest low-budget concoction from Blumhouse Productions is Fantasy Island, a horror themed take on the kitschy 1970s TV series. Opening over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Jeff Wadlow (who recently teamed with Blumhouse on Truth or Dare) directs with a cast including Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, and Michael Rooker.

Shot for a reported tiny $7 million, the pic will attempt to bring in youngsters without much reference point for the source material. That said, this particular production shop is savvy about getting an audience and turning a handsome profit. Nearly two years back, Truth debuted to nearly $19 million against its $3 million budget.

The gargantuan profit return may not be quite as pronounced here, but still substantial. For the Friday to Monday frame, I’ll say Island manages low double digits.

Fantasy Island opening weekend prediction: $11.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Sonic the Hedgehog prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/06/sonic-the-hedgehog-box-office-prediction/

For my The Photograph prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/08/the-photograph-box-office-prediction/

For my Downhill prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/09/downhill-box-office-prediction/

Black Christmas Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions looks to scare up some Yuletide bucks this season with Black Christmas, the second remake of the 1974 slasher cult hit. Shot for a reported miserly $5 million (par for the course for its low cost and high profit studio), Sophia Takal directs with a cast including Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, and Cary Elwes.

Turning a tidy profit should be no trouble for the horror title. This genre is rather underserved at the moment and one would think this should at least double its budget out of the gate. That said, the 2006 Black Christmas rustled up only $16 million in its whole domestic run.

With the Blumhouse marketing machine behind this one, however, I expect Christmas to get past double digits for a solid start, especially considering the budget.

Black Christmas opening weekend prediction: $12.1 million

For my Jumanji: The Next Level prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/04/jumanji-the-next-level-box-office-prediction/

For my Richard Jewell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/06/richard-jewell-box-office-prediction/

Countdown Box Office Prediction

STX Entertainment is hoping that horror fans will spend some time in this Halloween season watching Countdown next weekend. The film (from director Justin Dec) centers on an app that predicts the timeline of people’s demises. The cast includes actors mostly known for TV work – Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Bateman, Tichina Arnold, P.J. Byrne, Peter Facinelli, and Anne Winters.

The techno scare fest could manage to lure in some younger viewers, but many of them could be attending their own costume parties. The final frame of October is traditionally a sluggish one at the box office when newcomers don’t post large debuts. A studio like Blumhouse might be able to market this effectively, but this seems to be generating little heat.

I believe the numbers clock here will stop at just over double digits.

Countdown opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million

For my Black and Blue prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/17/black-and-blue-box-office-prediction/

For my The Current War prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/20/the-current-war-box-office-prediction/

Ma Movie Review

The more I thought about it, Ma shares a bit in common with Tate Taylor’s predecessor  The Girl on the Train in positive and negative ways. They’re both headlined by impressive female performers – Emily Blunt in Train and Octavia Spencer here. And both are hindered by serious messaging tones in a genre that should celebrate its own trashiness. That problem is less pronounced in Ma, but it rears its head enough to make an impact.

The opening finds high school student Maggie (Diana Silvers, recently seen as an object of Kaitlyn Dever’s affection in Booksmart) transplanted to a sleepy small town. Her single mom (Juliette Lewis) is frequently off working at a casino. There’s nothing much to do except find fields to guzzle beer and smoke weed. Maggie finds some friends, including the dreamy Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and party monster Haley (McKaley Miller). There’s a couple underwritten others who fit various stereotypes. The group needs town elders to buy them the booze and that’s where Spencer’s Sue Ann comes in.

She’s a veterinary technician who’s quite bad at her job. Her boss is played in a small role by Allison Janney, a staple of Taylor’s filmography. Luckily for the kids, she’s skilled at buying their intoxicants. Sue Ann, deemed Ma by the youngsters, befriends them and allows her basement to be the drinking spot. It doesn’t take long for Maggie and company to realize she’s a little too creepily eager to play a part in their lives.

Ma works best early when the motives of Ma are unclear. Her fascination with Andy, her zeal for bumping 70s funk hits amongst a swarm of underage students, and her endless texts and Insta videos to her new buddies set up an effective and pending sense of doom. Without going into serious spoiler territory, Ma’s bizarre behavior is based in her own upbringing and it’s told in flashback sequences. This is where explanatory content didn’t feel totally necessary. The screenplay by Scotty Landes rather clumsily attempts to insert commentary on bullying and harassment. It’s a delicate balance that never quite levels out.

Spencer is great as always and it is fun (again, especially early) to see her play against type. We also have Luke Evans as Andy’s smarmy father who plays a key role in Sue Ann’s past and Missi Pyle as his tawdry girlfriend. Despite some freaky moments, Ma is a mixed bag as we watch this girl on the crazy train go off the rails.

**1/2 (out of four)